This week I was talking to a writer-friend about how he approached a new project and he offered to share his writing discipline.
Discipline is a word that can make a person seize up with negative anticipation; it’s a punishment or correction. The visual that comes to mind for me is an angry parent dragging a little kid by the arm.
My friend’s writing discipline begins with writing 1500 words a day for 30 days. Everyone seems to agree that 30 days is the magic number for an activity to become a habit.
You know where I am going with this. I always think riding and writing are practically the same thing, so this 30 day plan strikes a chord.
What if you can’t ride every day? This time of the year there are lots of excuses for not riding. It’s dark, it’s cold, my horse is woolly as a sheep, I’m waiting for Santa to bring me a new saddle.
Maybe you don’t plan on showing your horse. That’s the worst excuse of all. We don’t ride like this to impress the judge. It’s done for the good of the horse. A stronger, more supple horse stays healthy longer. So if you respect your horse, love him enough to consistently ask for his best work.
And if you can’t ride every day for 30 days, how about riding differently for the next 30 rides?
Begin by redefining discipline. Try seeing your time in the saddle as a gift of freedom that discipline gives you. Then ride with your heart wide open for 30 rides. Stay vulnerable and see what happens.
The real story begins now. What genre: Action/adventure? Romance novel? Science fiction? Where will you find inspiration?
Then pick a main character. Choose a horse; one that looks kind of like yours. He should have a couple of flaws, you know the ones. But so much potential.
Now for the supporting character, who do you want in the saddle? Choose someone positive and enthusiastic- and let that character be someone just like you, only better.
Pick a goal for the plot, and let it be a dream-sized goal. Even a Black Beauty sized goal. Pick the one that makes you the hungriest and then cut it into little tiny bite sized pieces and arrange them in a logical progression, with room for bumps and curves.
Then start the discipline of work: Ride like it matters. Lift your expectations. Sit up and ask for your horse’s best work. Of course that will require your best work, so stay positive. Perfection takes time.
This is a quote about writing, but I think it suits riding even better:
“If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.” Ursula K. Le Guin, author.
It isn’t enough to meander through a series of exercises by rote- think brilliance. Ask your horse for a little more than you need, so you can give some back. Discipline yourself into an energetic version of positive ambition and ultimate patience. When he gives you a small try, praise him extravagantly. Forward! Let him know the reward of trying and achieving.
When it’s time for the cool down, feel some genuine pride: You have written a new chapter and in the process, set a tendency in motion in the saddle that will make things on the ground look different. Who knows how this story will end? Maybe you’ll even ride the Great American Novel.
Lift your eyes and inflate your lungs. This isn’t a game for couch potatoes- this is art!
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.